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Philip Seymour Hoffman's role as
Truman Capote allowed him time
to practice standing at a podium,
accepting his inevitable Best Actor
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Capote is the movie that will make Philip Seymour Hoffman a star, while posthumously turning the man it was named after into a monster. Sure, it'll never make more than 20 million at the box-office and the tiny folk in small-town America will most likely never set eyes on the film, but it's a strong enough movie to change people's perception of Truman Capote from folk hero to selfish bastard and recognizable enough to be Hoffman's star-making turn, playing the man he's helping to demonize.
If you're here reading this review, you probably already know Philip Seymour Hoffman. You know he's one of the most talented actors of his generation. You're probably wondering how people in small-town America have never heard of the guy. He's been in some pretty mainstream movies, from Along Came Polly to Twister.
But those aren't the roles that put a name to the face. Those aren't the movies we remember him for. When we think Philip Seymour Hoffman we think Boogie Nights, Happiness, Magnolia and a boatload of other films that rural America somehow passed over on their way to the newest Vin Diesel flick.
His unforgettable portrayal of Truman Capote is going to earn this guy a "Best Actor" statue at the Golden Globes, and another at the Oscars. Then Norman Rockwell's America will no longer be able to turn away. It won't hurt that his next film is the highly mainstream Mission: Impossible III, which will more likely than not display, "And Academy Award Winner Philip Seymour Hoffman" in all of its post-Academy advertising.
Is Hoffman's performance in Capote worthy of an Oscar? Absolutely. Just like his performances in Flawless, Happiness, Magnolia, Love Liza and Boogie Nights. But this one is loud enough, brass enough, and colorful enough to finally get the Academy's undivided attention.
There's irony to be found in the fact that the Philip Seymour Hoffman will break through into the rural markets by playing a man whose name was also recognized by the same college crowds that currently recognize Hoffman's. A man who, like Hoffman, is a virtual unknown outside of college towns, big cities and upscale "Blue State" suburbs where Starbuck’s is frequented more than McDonald’s. A man whose work, like Hoffman's, is famous across the world, but whose name remains alien to most living in towns with populations of less than 20,000.
That man, once again, is Truman Capote.
Although Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, many people in the Bible Belt™ have never heard of him. My Midwestern friend Shawn said, "don't know the guy" when I mentioned his name, in association with this movie. When my dental hygienist asked me, "See any good movies lately?" (always her first question), I named Capote. "That sounds Indian," she exclaimed. "Is it a Western?" (If you ever catch me with bad-breath, now you'll know who to blame.) When I told her it was about Truman Capote, she gave me a blank stare. "He wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's." She lit up. "I love that movie!" She said.
"What's his name again?"
"I still think that sounds like a movie about Indians."
"Would I like it?"
"I don't see why not."
"What's it about?"
Capote is as much about In Cold Blood as it is about the man who wrote the legendary novel. It isn't a typical sprawling biographical film. It doesn't cover the life of the celebrated author from cradle to grave. It only covers the years in which he wrote In Cold Blood. The terrifying story regarding four members of a farming family being savagely murdered in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.
The film could be considered the first "behind the scenes" look at the writing of a non-fiction novel. It shows what Capote did to get us the story most of us have read and admired. Many of us will be surprised that much of what he did to get us that story wasn't admirable at all.
Screenwriter Dan Futterman has painted Truman in an unfriendly light. This was a man who would do anything to get his story. He befriended the killers of an innocent family to get their side of things. He found them a lawyer to get them a stay of execution. He didn't want them to die until he completed his book.
Once he had gotten close to the end, he cared about nothing but the publication of his novel. But how could he get that without an ending? He lied to the killers and told them that he couldn't find them another lawyer, when they had a chance to present their case to the Supreme Court. The man who could have more than likely gotten them another stay of execution let his "friends" die. He wrote the ending to his book by letting two of its featured players go to the gallows.
His friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) helped with the early investigating done for In Cold Blood. She then watched as her friend Truman fell into a self-centered haze of drunken self-pity. She watched as he would ignore letters from his "friends" in prison, who he said he'd write to every day. She watched as he turned the other way and wished they would be sent to their deaths, so he could "finish."
In the meantime, her book, To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and soon after made into a feature film. Harper saw Capote's jealousy. She saw how he no longer cared about her success, his "friends" in prison, his friends on the outside -- or even himself. He cared about nothing but In Cold Blood becoming the most beloved book in all of America and the world.
Dan Futterman's screenplay is the backbone of Capote. During the first third of the film, the sold-out theater I saw the film at was laughing hysterically at nearly everything Truman Capote said or did (this was in no small part due to Hoffman's incredible acting). Truman, while a little self-involved, seemed like a generally affable, quirky guy.
By the third act of the film, no one was laughing. You could have heard a pin drop in that theater. Capote would still make jokes, but the audience seemed unable to indulge him -- even as channeled through Hoffman -- with a smile. While Truman Capote was no doubt a complicated man, his behavior during the writing of In Cold Blood was inexcusable.
Some are saying that Capote wouldn't be much of a movie without Philip Seymour Hoffman. I disagree. It wouldn't be as good a film, true. The lack of character development with those surrounding Truman Capote would be less forgivable. But the screenplay would still be powerful. Bennett Miller's competent directing would still keep audiences involved. The rest of the cast -- especially Keener as Harper Lee -- would still range from "really good" to "astounding."
And Truman Capote would still be a man that is undeniably intriguing. Someone equally enjoyable and despicable -- sometimes monstrous, if this film holds up in the court of public opinion. A man who did the worst of things to write a story about the worst of crimes. And, as it is, the man who's about to make Philip Seymour Hoffman a star with name recognition. Even in places as far away from the big city as Holcomb, Kansas.
There's nothing this movie critic likes more than discussing movies with fellow film fanatics. He's even getting better at replying. Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. Let's talk film! Email Alex!
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